Attorney General Edwin Meese III used his testimony before the Iran-contra committees this week to defend statements he made during his Nov. 25 news conference announcing the diversion of Iran arms sales money to aid the Nicaraguan rebels.

But the record laid out since then shows that Meese was wrong or misleading about many facets of the affair that day. Meese has acknowledged that some of the incorrect statements were the result of wrong information provided to him by others.

The picture Meese drew last Nov. 25 portrayed the president as someone who learned about key events in the Iran arms deals after they occurred and depicted Lt. Col. Oliver L. North as "the only person in the United States government" who knew "precisely" of the contra diversion. The facts that have come to light since then show that Reagan was a central player in the Iran arms sales, and, while the president did not know of the contra diversion, others in the government, including then-CIA Director William J. Casey, did.

Meese testified Tuesday that "our information was by no means complete at that time," but, he said, "we were able to piece together a basic outline of what is now known as the Iran-contra story, which has been essentially validated during the extensive investigations which have occurred since."

But the investigations have shown that in its scope and depth the Iran affair extended far beyond that which Meese described to reporters Nov. 25.

For example, Meese said then that Reagan approved the arms sales to Iran in a "finding" in January 1986. "And, incidentally," Meese said, "all of these transactions that I am referring to took place between January of 1986 and the present time."

In fact, the Iran operation began well before January 1986. Israel, with U.S. approval, made two shipments of weapons to Iran in August and November, 1985.

On Nov. 25, Meese said nothing about a finding Reagan signed Dec. 5, 1985. That document outlined an explicit trade of arms for hostages; the January finding described a broader initiative involving a strategic opening to Iran. Meese testified this week he did not know about the earlier finding at the time it was signed. Former national security adviser John M. Poindexter testified he tore it just as Meese's initial inquiry was getting under way.

On Nov. 25, Meese said Reagan "did not have full details of all of the aspects of transactions that took place prior to the {January} finding." Meese said, for example, that Reagan did not learn of the November 1985 shipment of Hawk missile parts from Israel to Iran until February 1986. "And it's my understanding that the United States individuals were also informed after the fact," he said.

But days earlier, Reagan told Secretary of State George P. Shultz that he was aware of the November shipment, according to Shultz's testimony.

On Nov. 25, Meese said that neither of the Israeli shipments involved the United States. In fact, top administration officials, including North and former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane, were involved.

Meese stressed Nov. 25 that the administration "is doing everything we can to be sure that there is no hint that anything is trying to be concealed." Subsequent testimony has shown that documents were shredded, false chronologies were prepared and other documents had been concealed.

Meese said Nov. 25 that representatives of Israel and Iran had carried out the financial transactions. This week he said that, hours after the Nov. 25 news conference, then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres called him to say that the Iranians paid the money directly into the Swiss bank account of an American company and the Israelis were not aware of the beneficiary.

Meese estimated on Nov. 25 that "somewhere between $10 {million} and $30 million" was diverted to the contras. However, the investigations have established that less than $3.5 million actually went to the contras. About $16 million was diverted from the Iran arms sales, and of that, about $8 million remains. The rest went to middlemen and for other purposes.

"So far as we know at this stage," Meese said Nov. 25, "no American person actually handled any of the funds that went to the forces in Central America." Subsequent investigations have shown that North and others who were involved in the so-called "enterprise" to support the contras did handle the money.